We continue to work on developing our writing communities, slowly settling into what it means to write together, to be writers, and to feel free to write. We have written directions, we have discussed the rules of writing, we have read great writing, and we have set up our writing circles. All this work is centered in identity. All this work is centered in learning who each other are and developing a feeling of safety and community as we grow into this year together.
Now we inch closer to writing personal essays on topics centered on our own lives and so we used the 6-word memoirs. This ingenious little foray into writing has a long history. A great place to read more about them can be found here. They are exactly what they sound like; 6 word stories about our lives.
I introduced them by showing them examples of other 6-word memoirs, some serious, some not so much. I showed my own example…
Then we discussed the perimeters of the challenge: Exactly 6 words, it cannot be a list of adjectives, should reveal some part of your life that you feel comfortable with.
Then the kids brainstormed for a bit it their writers’ notebooks, playing around with sentences, words, and punctuation.
When they felt satisfied with their chosen words, they had someone spell check their final sentence. A few spelling errors were missed, which happens.
Then they illustrated them using these free blank face printables. I printed one out and drew a line down the middle, then made enough copies with directions on this handout. One side was for them to illustrate either as a collage or as an abstract image of of their words. The other side was for their words. I told the kids that they would be displayed so to put their names on the back for privacy unless they wanted it to be known that they made it.
We listened to music. Kids played with words, drew, and then handed them in. I couldn’t believe the care many took. While certainly there were many that spoke of sports, dogs, and other seemingly small-ish parts of their lives, every single one spoke of something they found important or showed a sliver of their personality.
A small lesson that showed so much about their identity once again. See for yourself, how they turned out.
We are two weeks into the year and slowly the routines are starting to shape up. We know each other just a little. Our community is growing. The incredible inquisitive and funny nature of our 7th graders is coming out more and more. And every day we start the same way; twenty minutes at least of independent reading. Twenty minutes to “Settle in, settle down, and get reading.” Twenty minutes where I get to book shop with kids, check in on their day, and also do initial reading conferences with the kids as we start to get to know each other more. After all, how am I supposed to help them grow as readers if I don’t know them as readers, as people?
Our first reading conferences are simple yet effective as we start this journey together. All it takes is a few things: our reader survey, their goal setting as it ties in with their 7th-grade reading challenge, my note taking sheet, my home information sheet and time. Hmm, maybe that sounds complicated, but it is not. What these different things do is allow me to slowly gather information on the students and open up conversation.
The reading survey helps me get insight into their reading habits and emotions tied in with reading. They do this within the first few days of school.
The home sheet was used during our ready-set-go conferences prior to school starting but I also use it throughout the year to fill in more information. (The pronoun question/answer is an optional question from a different survey).
And my note-taking sheet, a constant work in progress, gives me a place to keep all of my information, in order to have a place to remember our conversations by.
Every class has its own binder where the information is placed alphabetically, and that’s how I start; alphabetically and call up two or three students every day during their reading time.
A few easy questions start us off: When we meet would you prefer to come to me or me come to you? (Many prefer the relative privacy of coming to me). Which book are you reading, how did you choose that one, how would you rank it on a scale from 1 to 10?
Then we move into their reading goal. Questions I ask are: What is your goal, how come you set that, and tell me more about your reading life last year? I take relevant notes throughout our conversations and I make sure the kids can see what I am writing down, I don’t want them to have to worry about what I may be recording. There are often follow up questions but I also want to be cognizant of wait time and the delicate nature at times of reading and how kids feel about themselves as readers.
Then we discuss their progress, how is it going? How is the book working for them? How is reading outside of English going? We also discuss what is hard about reading, no surprise, even my most adapt readers have challenges. Finally, I ask them if there are things I can do to support them right now better as we get to know each other. Many don’t have ideas right now but I like the openended question in case they do.
As we wind down, I ask them a few more questions. What is their favorite color? What is their favorite treat? And what do they do well? This information is used throughout the year as I celebrate them. It also gives me a peak into where they see themselves right now, many kids tell me they don’t do many things well, and so I always try to help them see great things about themselves.
I thank them for their time at the end. Thank them for investing in our class and allowing me this time with them and that I look forward to helping them grow this year.
The next time I meet with them, there are less questions so the conference goes quicker. Then it starts with, ‘What are you working on as a reader?” as you can see from the note-taking sheet and then evolves from there.
A simple way to start but one that sets us up together to work on reading, to maybe better their experiences in reading, to make it matter beyond the work, the pages, the labor that it is for some. I am so grateful for these kids and the conversations we get to have.
I’ve been thinking about the hurry. The rush to get into habits. To get kids reading. To get kids writing. To not waste a moment of instructional time so that we can get to the real work. I see it surround us, this pressure to get moving, to get going as quickly as we can so we don’t lose time. So we don’t miss our chance for cramming as much as we can into a year. After all, we only get them for so long and the tests will tell us whether we did enough.
It plays out a lot when we meet kids who don’t like reading. Who either proclaim it loudly, or whose behaviors clue us in. The aimless browsing, the grab-and-go when it comes to book selection. The kids who go with the motions at times but you can tell that the book they are currently reading is not one that is going to make it home. Who look at us wide-eyed or with a grin when we tell they we hope they will read over the weekend.
We rush them with book recommendations. Have you tried this one or this one? We tell them they just haven’t found the right book yet and then we hand them a stack hoping that in that stack will be that right book. You won’t know until you start reading, so read.
And I get it, I do it too, after all, the year looms and we have so much work to do. Yet, to quote Taylor Swift, I feel we need to calm down. To take these moments, these aimless wanderings, these negative reading relationships, and ask more questions. Sit in silence and let kids think. If a child can’t answer why they hate reading beyond that they just do, then they haven’t been given an opportunity to fully think about their relationship with reading. They haven’t been given a moment to recognize that their path with reading has been filled with choices, both their own and others, that have now brought them to this point in time where they feel that they are not readers. That reading has no value. That reading is not something they need. Nor something they feel they can do.
So when we hand them another book without conversation beyond “What types of books do you like?” Without seeing the child and giving them a chance to reflect, we are not changing habits long-term. We are not changing lives long-term. Sure, they may love that book – hooray – but what happens when the book is done? Have they really changed their relationship with reading or was it just a fluke?
So before we rush to our piles of recommended books, we slow down. Yes, we surround them with incredible books, people who love to read, we give them time to read, we give them the space to read, the air to read, and then we talk. (This should be a right not a privilege of all kids). We reflect. We give kids the opportunity, the expectations, to know themselves as readers so that we, the adults that surround them, can invest in long-term change.
I am not teaching kids to just like reading this year. I am trying to teach kids to find value, inherent value, in the act of reading itself. While books and texts are the tools, the real work starts with the recongition of one’s own journey and subsequent relationship to reading and how it impacts the child that stands before us.
It takes time. It takes patience. It takes careful planning. And it takes us realizing that being a reader is not just something we want kids to experience in the brief time they are with us, but instead be a part of their being that exists without us after the year is over. That doesn’t just start with a book. That book needs to be wrapped up in reflection, in time, and in conversation. Then changes may happen.
Today, we managed to pull off the unimaginable; every child walking out of room 203 with a book in their hands that they are willing to try tomorrow, which will be our first day of independent reading.
How did we do it? Well, a few things had to happen.
We gave it some time. While our students have certainly been surrounded by books these past few days, we have worked our way slowly toward book shopping. Some kids have checked out books because they asked but many looked more warily at the books surrounding them. Taking it slow, for us, has worked because we can offer up an opportunity to establish some trust and community before we dive into book shopping.
We read aloud. Read alouds tie us together as a community which is why I love to use picture books often with our students. It also allows us to dive into conversations about consent (Don’t Touch My Hair), how we feel about reading (I hate Picture Books!) and the expectations we want to function under in our room (We Don’t Eat Our Classmates). Read alouds ease us into the important work we are doing while exposing us to others’ stories.
We had some powerful conversations. Starting with our beginning of the year reading survey which gave me a sneak peak into how the kids see themselves as readers. While many are okay or even great with books and reading, some are decidedly not and the survey starts to let us see that. We then move to discussing the feelings and experiences tied in with reading as detailed in this post. This year the students decided to share when reading is dope and when it is trash. This then laid the groundwork for revealing the 7th grade reading challenge, as well as setting a meaningful reading goal to begin the year.
They determined their reading rights. After we have discussed their past experiences with reading, both the good and the not so good, we brainstorm which rights we would like to have for our independent reading time together. While there is not an option to not read, the students have great ideas for the type of reading experience they would like to be a part. After all three blocks of kids brainstorm, I created our chart which the students then approved today.
We have reading loving staff members. And not just this year. I am fortunate to work in a district that emphasizes the joy of reading in many place and I am part of a chain of people who spend a lot of time trying to match kids with books and also protect how their readers feel. While kids come in with many different experiences when it comes to reading, many also speak of the great moments they have had with reading throughout the years. And this only furthers the work we get to do in 7th grade.
We have lots and lots of books. While my district funds books, which seems to be a rarity these days, I have also spent a lot of money on books throughout the years, I wish this wasn’t the case, but it is what it is. However, our district also funds our school library and has staffed it with an amazing librarian and library aide. This provides our kids with the opportunity to not only look for books in our classroom, but also in the library and other places that have book collections. It is a powerful partnership between many of us that only continues to expand.
We took the time today to discuss how to find a book. While book shopping and book selection is not something new, centering our book shopping in what they already know and discussing the habits they have provide us with a place to start. It introduces our classroom library as well as our check out policy. It also helps us remind kids that they have a lot of strategies to try a book on, as well as to remind them that to cease reading a book is always an option at any point. We would much rather have them spend a lot of time selecting a potential great book than just rushing through the process.
So we gave them time. As much as they needed to touch the books, to browse the books, and to discuss the books with each other. I had pulled several stacks of books, one per table, to get their interest but they knew that they could browse the entire classroom. They could check out whichever book(s) they wanted and all of the other potential titles they put on their to-be-read lists. And it worked. Every child was up and moving, every child left with a book or more. To see so much book excitement was frankly a major highlight of this whole week.
Now don’t be fooled, the work is far from over. But this is a start, a seed that will continue the work we do as we try to help some of our students go from kids who see little to no value in reading to kids who do. As we help kids continue the already positive relationship with reading that they have. But it also work that is shrouded in privilege. Our kids have access to books. Our kids have access to teachers who love reading. Our kids have time to read. Every child deserves that as an educational right.
For me the best part is; I am not alone in this. Our school and district is filled with people pursuing the same goal that I am; helping kids find books that matter, helping kids see themselves as readers. Today was a start and I cannot wait to see how it continues to evolve.
I have been awake since 4 AM. Call it the first week jitters, exhaustion, or just the buzz of the never-ending to do list as the year finally, finally, gets underway. The students showed up yesterday and our second day together beckons. I cannot wait to see how it will go because we all know that the first day of school carries a certain excitement, but that it is the second day of school and all of those after that are the true test. Will this year be worth it in the eyes of students? Will these teachers, the adults that surround them, really care?
As I look back on the blur of the first day, a few things stand out.
Learning names is so important, and so is learning their pronunciation. I spend a lot of time in the weeks leading up to the first day simply looking at student pictures. I label what needs to be labeled in the classroom. We also meet with parents and caregivers that want to before school starts to learn about their child. And then we wait, because we won’t know a kid until we have met a kid and spent a lot of time with them. But their name? That shouldn’t take that long and neither should how to say it right. Today, as they walk in, I will try to address each of them by their name. By tomorrow I should have them down and if not, I start to owe them treats. Relationships are built in being seen, that starts with their name,
Your room will never be ready. I was as ready as I could be but the minute the kids showed up I saw a few problems with our space. The tables were too tight, there is no natural flow to walk through and where they store their notebooks created a traffic jam. After minor adjustments, we shall try again today, however, I also made sure to tell them that they can move the furniture as they see fit in order to not feel so crowded.
I had too much to do. I overplanned, I knew I did but not by how much. The day felt rushed and too full as we tried to do one thing after another. Today, two things are on our agenda – discussing consent and discussing why reading sucks at time. Yes, we got stuff done, but we didn’t slow down enough to just be together. That changes today.
What did I learn today? I am really trying to remember to gather information about my students that goes beyond the large stuff. This may sound dumb, but I fear that at times I learn things about them but then because I don’t write it down, it disappears. Yet knowing things about their lives, about them is what builds a relationship. So this morning, I am going through my student info sheets and just adding what I learned yesterday, even if the knowledge seems really insignificant.
Even a small note makes a difference. In my fog of exhaustion last night, I remembered that our team likes to send a “We had a great day and are excited for the year ahead…” and so we did and we think it matters, because there was a buzz in the building of excitement. Because at the end of the day even though the exhaustion felt tangible, we also left wanting to come back, excited for the year ahead, and that is something worth noting and celebrating. I also made sure to send thank you’s to my own children’s teachers, after all, they also had great days. Those emails or notes, they matter as we start to build a community of trust.
We get another chance. One of the best parts of teaching is that it is not just a day thing. Yesterday was just the beginning of what will be a year of learning, of exploration, of community, and of growth and today we continue that journey together. So even if the day before was not great, even if the day before was exhausting, we get another chance. And not just the adults, but the kids too, and that matters sometimes more than we know.
So here’s to many more days ahead. I cannot wait to see what happens.
I moved to a new space this year. Still teaching 7th grade on the “O” team at Oregon Middle School, go Sharks! However, with the departure of one of my closests friends, her room opened up and I was allowed to move into what used to be the choir room (Choir now has a beautiful new space).
All summer, I have been tinkering with things. Trying to figure out the flow, the space, the needs of kids who I haven’t even met yet. And so while the room is as cleas as it will ever be, as organized as it will ever be, it is still not ready. it won’t be until the kids show up tomorrow – finally – and make it their own. They will get to move the furniture, find the spots that work, tweak the systems I have thought up and make it our space.
But until then, this is what our classroom looks like right now as it sits in suspense, waiting for the kids to show up.
So a few questions I get a lot are…
How do you have so many books?
It is a triple answer: My school district, Oregon School District, believes in funding books. Last year they gave us each $500 to buy more books. So some of the books come from them. Some of the books come from publishers who graciously send me books in order to consider them for the Global Read Aloud. If they send me an advanced review copy, I always purchase the book as well when it comes out to place it in my classroom collection.
And finally, I buy a lot of books. I wish it wasn’t that way, but it is, so I do. I spend too much money each year buying books for our students in order to help them have a better relationship with reading. Funding books does not seem like a priority in many places, and I don’t understand it, why wouldn’t we want all kids to have access to this many books in every classroom? If we can fund Chromebooks, then we can fund books. Pair this with a certified librarian running a fully-stocked library and you have the ultimate reading combination. All kids deserve to have this many books in their lives, not just those whose teachers spend their own money to do so.
Where do you get your books from?
I get many of my books from Books4School.com, a great warehouse here in Madison that sells overstock supplies of books for about $2 each. I also use my Scholastic money to buy books. I use our independent book store, A Room Of One’s Own, when we are downtown. I try to support my local Barnes and Noble as well because I don’t want them to go out of business, and I use Amazon. Sometimes the prices can’t be beat.
What are those ledges on the wall?
Built by Ryan, my friend’s husband, they are wooden ledges with a lip drilled into the wall. Now, you can also use rain gutters to display books. I had rain gutters below my whiteboard in my old classroom and loved having the extra display space. Another idea shared by someone (and if it’s you please let me know so I can give you credit!) was to have a bulletin board with books clipped onto it using larger binder clips tacked to the wall. That way kids can easily check out the books and you can easily replace them.
Where did you get the spinning rack?
I was handed it when I moved to OMS, however, you can order them online as well. Beware that it needs to have some sort of metal or solid base or it will not carry the weight of books, we discovered this the hard way last year when we purchased one with a plastic base. The spinning rack, while full right now, will be emptied within the next few days as students use it to recommend books to each other. When you place a book on the rack it is an automatic recommendation. I also use it to keep our “hot” books in circulation as they are returned.
One addition this year to our recommendation ideas is this stamp inspired by the stamp that Cassie Thomas shared on Twitter. I ordered mine from Amazon here and changed the wording slightly to just be the books I loved, I will be stamping books as I come across them in our library.
This helps books come back. If it is a softcover, kids just grab the books. If it is a hardcover, then they remove the dustcover, write their first and last name on a post-it, place it on the dustcover, and file the dustcover under their class section. Then they grab the book. When done, they reunite the dustcover with the book and place it in their return bin.
Where did you get your posters from?
The ones on the cabinets are from Amplifier.org and are from last year where my colleague, Katy, pointed them out to me. They offer incredible lessonplans to go with these posters. I am so excited for the coming year as well to see who they will focus on.
The @SonofBaldwin quote and poster that will ground our work was an image shared online that I blew up and ordered through Walgreens.
The Battlestar Galactica Happy Birthday Cylon poster is from Keyanna
The poster on the glass that says “You are just the child…” is one my husband designed for me, the file can be found here.
The poster “the only Reading Levels that Matter…” is created by Dev Petty and can be found here.
Which picture books do you have on display?
Right now, we have a lot of picture books on display that have to do with personal essay and identity. I wanted kids to see themselves potentially reflected in the picture books as we work to create a community.
Well, it changes depending on needs but mostly by genre and sub-genre. So books can have multiple designations and they have the abbreviation of the genre under the stamp on the inside cover. We don’t have a lot of author bins because kids asked me not to to do that in previous years.
Are there other questions?
I try to make the space functioning, welcoming, and flexible. I want the space to feel welcoming and safe for all kids. And I want the space to work for us, not for us to have to work to fit into the space. Yet, even though, I am know I am in an incredible space to start the year, it won’t matter if what we do doesn’t matter. Because while sharing my space is easy, doing the work is not.
And also, that we have an inequity in the US when it comes to funding for our schools. I am privileged that I get to work in a district where we have funding to have clean, inviting spaces. Every child deserves that and yet not every child gets that. Until we fix school funding, our system will continue to be horribly inequitable and not conducive nor safe for all kids. We have so much work to do.
This year will be another year for exploring our identity, for connecting with the world, for hopefully finding value in our time together. And that matters more than any piece of furniture or any poster I can put on the wall.